MALT MANIACS #100
Concerns of a German Whisky Lover
An Indian's perspective on Scotch Whisky
A Whisky Lover in a 'Dry' Town
The 'Cask Fondling' Phenomenon
A Dozen Delightful '2006' Drams
The Italian Whisky Mafia
Whisky Live South Africa (Cape Town)
Whisky Live South Africa (Johannesburg)
My '2006' Scotland Trip
Malt Maniacs #100 - January 15, 2007
Hurray! We've made it to 100 issues of our E-zine!
A few of our 'E-pistles' were actually published at the end of
2006 on WhiskyFun while the Malt Maniacs website was 'frozen'.
However, I thought a few of them were just too good to 'bury'
them in our 1997-2006 archive. Take our very first E-pistles
from the dark continent of Africa, for example...
After A Decade of Heavy Dramming we've published the first
E-pistles from Africa, submitted by 'foreign correspondents' Joe Barry and Larry Aaronson. They may evolve to certified malt maniacs one day if they submit enough E-pistles, contributing to our 'global' coverage of the whisky world. Although we already have members in North America and Asia, we're still keeping our eyes peeled for team members in South America and in growing markets Japan & China.
I usually use this 'editorial space' to point our readers at some highlights in an issue of Malt Maniacs, but because I've used the massive reconstruction as an opportunity to improve the navigation structure of the web site as well I think that a few words on the new 'concept' of Malt Maniacs would be helpful.
The material on the Malt Maniacs website is divided across five sections (or six if you count the questions section as well). By far the largest segment is the ARCHIVE containing all E-pistles we've written since 1997. At the moment most of the old issues of MM (as well as the prE-pistles) are part of the ADHD section, but in due time I hope to re-integrate the 'old' and 'new' archives of Malt Maniacs again. The LIBRARY will be a place for study with book reviews, research dossiers, the Lex-icon, An aroma's & flavours dictionary, a new 'fake alert' section, etc. In the OFFICE you can find all material dealing with numbers, including the Malt Maniacs Awards and a cleaned up version of the monitor. The BAR is the place for our discussions about new whiskies and all other things whisky related. Finally, we have the LOCALS section to launch a number of 'local' initiatives. Most of the new sections are still (mostly) empty, but they will be filled with fresh content over the next few months.
Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs
(Attention: a number of fairly recent E-pistles from 2006 were published on WhiskyFun over the last few months...)
Or: It's all in the woodworks …
Drinking whisky – may it be for leisure or even semi-professional – is one of the greatest hobbies of all time, no doubt about it. However, some clouds, e.g. in the form of unreal price-policy, decreasing quality and 'ppm-uniformism', recently spoil the blue sky for conoisseurs in whisky heaven. Where will the road lead in the industry? There are lots of reasons to be quite concerned:
At the moment, aficionados have already discovered the drop in quality in recent years as a result from the long-lasting whisky boom and its ramifications. Hence many of them are buying older bottlings - and not only from blockbuster distilleries – to receive high quality malts. Of course, it would be unfair and exaggerated to state that there are no good whiskys out there these days, but their number has dropped and their price has risen. Positive examples like Benriach just become too few.
But is this development a problem for newbies?
They haven't encountered the 'old stuff' yet (most of them never will) and, therefore, don't miss it. They have been well-educated by the marketers: gratefully they consume younger and younger malts masked by massive peat or wood finishes, an old wish from the industry that has come true.
It's about power, not subtle complexity nowadays it seems.
Why stack up whiskies in warehouses for decades if they can be sold after five years already and customers are happy. Why select only excellent casks if consumers and independent bottlers buy anyway. The few 'picky' connoisseurs do not really make a difference in the balance sheets of multinational conglomerates. That's why the malts going into blends exceed the quality of some bottled single casks more often nowadays because the blend masters – who remain selective - know their business well.
On the other hand, quality bottlings are slowly being turned into luxury goods with expensive presentations and their own advertising campaign, as the Laddie 40, the Ardbeg 1965 and some old Bowmores and Macallans have shown. They are made to fit the life-styles of the rich and the famous ('The Envy of Islay' says it all): I can already picture Diddy on his yacht popping open an Ardbeg 1965 for his entourage. So be it, but it is quite sad that the undoubted quality of these whiskies might not even be recognized by its consumers - which cannot be average malt enthusiasts due to the price. Moreover, such bottlings function as clever marketing tools with tremendous advertising effects. By being flagships for their brands they broaden recognition and help raising prices for the whole product range. Other great aged whiskies below the top range – or not even from the same distilleries – profit from such marketing as well and increase in price. Gladly, this trick doesn't always work with the aficionados as recent price reductions for bottles like Tobermory 1972 have shown. Now this nice whisky has become attractive again to the normal buyer of fine malts.
Aside from monetary issues, there is more bad news looming.
It is quite sure to suspect, that Single Malt Whisky quality will decrease further: the Bourbon distillers have more and more problems in meeting the worldwide demand for their products. Maturing time of around four years has already been shortened quite a bit and experiments with small casks and woodchips are conducted to produce more Bourbon/Tennessee Whisky in shorter time. Rumour has it that a law is being discussed which would allow Bourbon makers to sell one-year old whiskies in the future – an undertaking which can only work by using small casks. The oak trees used for Bourbon casks used to be around 250 years old in the past, but due to the boom, hundred years of age seem to do nowadays, resulting in drastically higher angel's share and less character. Bourbon drinkers notice the change already.
Now go figure! The Scottish whisky industry heavily relies on casks from overseas that helped making such beautiful whiskies full of American
oak character in the past – and holding the spirit for up to 60 years. Those changes would make the cask management even harder for
Scottish distilleries after good Sherry casks have become rare and expensive. Consequently, the distilleries are 'forced' to use more wine
casks and Bruichladdich/Murray McDavid, Edradour/Signatory and Arran pave the way on this track.
Only time will show if such wine casks can stand the the test of time and the palates.
For the distillers, the wine casks bear more chances. Not only are these barrels cheap and available in abundance.
They can even help in gaining new customers among the wine drinkers (and vice versa) who may recognize a GAJA- or Yquem-finished whisky by the brand name and become curious. Maltmaniac Olivier should be able to get rid of some barriques and make a buck or two. I can imagine a Gewürztraminer-Finish in a Zind-Humbrecht cask quite easily if the malt is not too rigid.
But to be honest, I'd rather have the excellent wine… .
How to react to such news as a sucker for great whiskies?
The answer to this question is easy and can be found in the development of prices in the rarities' segment. These prices however – in opposition to some recent releases - make sense to me! So is it worth seeking old 75cl-whiskies on shelves in small bars in foreign countries or in cellars of relatives and friends? Is it essential to remain critical towards a young 50 ppm-Speysider finished in a Chateau Migraine cask.
Whisky, I know for sure, is a subject that is of growing interest to many an Indian palate.
Naturally it excites me to write on this topic because I have a little to share from my experiences with this noble drink. The fact that real whisky's ingredients are barley (although other grains are permitted too), water, yeast and most importantly time, are now known to all.
But appreciating whisky is a different ball game and is an outcome of acquired taste.
And when it comes to Single Malts, the grammar of whiskies, the taster (or should I say the connoisseur) has acquired his taste painstakingly over a long period of time. For an Indian palate this process is even more difficult, as the stuff is sui generis to Celts and most of the smells and tastes that are described in Single Malts are from the dietary menu of the western world.
For example smells and tastes in things like rhubarb, licorice, short bread, marshmallows, junipers, thyme, rosemary, etc are unknown to general Indian palate although some western tastes like those found in prunes, plum cake, strawberries, garlic bread, etc are now familiar to many Indians. I am mentioning this because these are some of the flavours and tastes that one often encounters while "nosing" and "tasting" Single Malts.
On the other hand, when I detect our own Indian smells & tastes like asafetida (*), ripe guava (*),
betel nut (*) or even green chillies in some of the Single Malts, my fellow drammers look at me with blank faces! That brings me to a discussion- what should an appreciative Indian taster like to find in his whisky? Well - definitely not soda, water and ice.
Even today Indians continue to consume large tumblers of water and soda laced with whisky.
Inferior whisky producers, since time immemorial have led us to believe that the only way to withstand their nascent produce is to add lots of ice, water, soda or even cola. As a result, the general Indian palate has not understood how to appreciate a decent dram of naked whisky. The aim seems to have a 'good kick' out of the stuff, no matter what it is and when you try to reason out with "What you drink is also important", you often lose the debate when the guy counters, "Who cares about the taste? I am not a snob." However, I am happy to find today that there is an increasing tribe of those who are now fed up with what they have been drinking and are asking for quality. Thankfully for this tribe, bless their souls, you do find now in India, some good blended whiskies and some imported standard OB malts. While the connoisseurs, I am sure, continue to source their quota during their sojourns abroad or courtesy- friends and relatives during their home comings. Imported Scotch is still out of reach of general Indian public and the government is ensuring the status by maintaining outrageously high levels of duties and taxes. This is a different topic by itself and one can write volumes on it.
What are the tastes that appeal to the Indian palate and which are the whiskies that offer these tastes?
I can safely vouch that the Speyside will be their first choice followed by Highlands stuff. The Indian palate is robust, as it has been subjected to lots of spices since its infancy and I am afraid, the lowland whiskies would be a tad too light for them. And Islay whiskies? I think it would be the same as with any one who has just been initiated into the world of whiskies. Either you love them or hate them.
Indians would love those heavily sherried Speyside whiskies.
I mean whiskies from distilleries like Glenfarclas, Benrinnes, Macallan, Aberlour, Glenrothes, Tomintoul and even Cardhu.
The sweet and honeyed tastes accompanied by spices like cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon would easily be recognised and appreciated. The tannins in the whiskies with thick mouth feel, is like chewing betel nuts, which incidentally is India's hereditary pastime. And if you have had a drink too many, the dark coating on the tongue is similar to the reddish stains of 'paan' (betel leaves, betel nuts with calcium hydroxide) which is a bonus. This is where the sherry finished whiskies score over their counterpart, bourbon finished whiskies. Having initiated into this, the Indian palate can upgrade itself to spicier and adventurous Highland stuff like Dalwhinnie, Dalmore, Clynelish, Glenmorangie or even Highland Park. One of the whiskies I can swear that would be a great hit in India is Glengoyne. The Indians would LOVE it.
Among the other whiskies the Indians would dare to try after initiation would be Lagavulin and Port Ellen.
As already mentioned before, due to high tariffs, Single Malts are not generally available, although I am told that Diageo and Allied Domecq have now established offices in India to cater to (or capture?) a niche segment. Single Malts are now available in all 5-star hotels and some high-end bars in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. You can have a dram of standard Glenlivet 12yo (43%, OB) at Rs.700, i.e. EU 11.66 – and I am sure those enjoying would be doing so at their corporate expenses.
One of the latest developments in India is the evolution of Single Malt clubs and I happen to know a few esteemed members personally. One is Suresh Hinduja who maintains a food and drinks website called www.gourmetindia.com and the website has a colourful forum where whisky is discussed passionately. Abhinav Aggarwal from Mumbai, another passionate member, has not yet developed his blog but is joined by another malt enthusiast Keshav Prakash, a cinematographer (who happens to be a friend of Rob Draper).
Yet another worthy name to mention is Vikram Chanty, CEO of www.tulleeho.com - India's premium website on alcoholic beverages.
Except for selling alcohol, it features everything on drinks. During last week's sojourn to India, Charles Maclean, our undisputed guru, was mentioning to me that he came across a few enthusiasts in Delhi who are part of a Single Malt club. The interest in SMSW is growing exponentially in India and if the tariffs are brought down to local excise duty levels by the government, I am sure the Scotch Whisky Industry would have a daunting task to meet the world's demand.
(* An E-pistle with some comments on a few 'local' Indian aroma's and flavours will be published in the next issue of MM.)
"The charming, yet regrettably dry town of Haddonfield, New Jersey…"
That's the phrase I use to describe my hometown in the USA, and it's generated a few wisecracks since I started using it in the debut episode of my weekly WhiskyCast podcasts. I've never really explained what that means before, but perhaps now is the time.
Very simply, there's no alcohol sold in Haddonfield, which is just a few miles east of Philadelphia. It's been this way since Prohibition ended in 1932, when New Jersey's liquor laws gave local governments the authority to declare their towns "dry." The local restaurants don't have wine lists, but the laws allow us to bring our own bottles of wine. Personally, I like that idea, since restaurants have a nasty habit of marking up wine prices, and I can get a much better bottle on my own for much less than I'd pay at a restaurant when I take my wife to dinner.
But, you might ask, where can I buy that wine if I live in a dry town? The answer's easy…
There are liquor stores within several blocks of the town's borders on most of the streets leading into Haddonfield. In fact, there's even one bar and restaurant that's right on the border – so much so that the parking lot is actually in Haddonfield! Collingswood is another "dry" town just a couple of miles up Haddon Avenue, and I've counted at least four liquor stores and five bars between the two towns. I just wish that at least one of them had a decent selection of whiskies. Three of the bars are at restaurants that pride themselves on having extensive wine lists, but they can't bother to stock more than a handful of single malts and the basic lineup of blends.
Why do we put up with this situation? Simply, it's because Haddonfield is a town based in tradition.
Like most towns, it has its share of loopholes, and there's a doozy of a loophole when it comes to liquor sales.
See, there's a bar in town… almost. Tavistock sits just on the edge of Haddonfield, with a golf club, four houses, 11 residents… and one liquor license. Tavistock seceded from Haddonfield in 1922 during Prohibition because the town's "blue laws" banned golf on Sundays. After Prohibition ended, Tavistock took advantage of its status as an independent borough to get a liquor license for the golf club. Today, Tavistock might as well be Haddonfield… In fact, most of Haddonfield's leading citizens belong to the golf club. (I don't.)
There's another little bit of irony that makes me chuckle.
Haddonfield has its place in Revolutionary War history. You see, after the Founding Fathers thumbed their noses at King George at Independence Hall in Philadelphia by signing the Declaration of Independence, many of them promptly left town to keep from being arrested by British soldiers. Some of them wound up hiding in Haddonfield, at a little place along the King's Highway called the Indian King Tavern.
That's right... the Indian King Tavern.
The Indian King Tavern still stands today. In fact, it's a museum to Haddonfield's role in the American Revolution.
A town where it's illegal to sell alcohol celebrates its heritage with a tavern.
Only in Haddonfield…the charming, yet regrettably dry town of Haddonfield, New Jersey.
I fondly remember those innocent days of my 'whisky youth' - those good old 1990's.
It was a quieter, gentler time when we still treated our elders and casks with respect.
Oh, how things have changed...
Did you believe that the most 'singular' sort of malt whisky was a single cask bottling?
Yeah, so did I... Well, at least until a few months ago when my eyes were opened to the
harsh light of reality. When I was cleaning up the Malt Maniacs Monitor recently I found
out that in a few instances two different bottlings by two different bottlers had the same
cask number. What, what, whaaat? Surely, a careless maniac must have made an error.
Well, apparently not...
As it turns out, a cask is occasionally 'shared' between different bottlers.
For example, Helen Arthur and Jack Wieber could buy a cask together and bottle part of the cask as a 'Helen Arthur Special Collection' bottling and part as a 'Jack Wieber's Old Premier Cross Prenzlow Castle Hill Train Line Special Cask' bottling. Hmmm... This practice worries me. There is already a growing gap between the traditional 'image' of the whisky world (especially single malts) that is propagated in the media and today's more business-like reality.
Because most of the popular official bottlings are produced as massive vattings of dozens and sometimes even hundreds of different casks, 'batch variation' between different bottlings of
the 'same' whisky does occur. That's why single cask bottlings are especially loved by most malt maniacs. When one of us finds a great whisky from a particular cask, we can share the
news with other maniacs and they would have a chance to experience the very same whisky. However, now it turns out that even bottlings from the same cask can be different;
sometimes VERY different indeed.
Sometimes the whisky in a cask isn't bottled all at once, but in various stages.
Needless to say, the whisky that stays longer in the cask will pick up more wood influence
(for better or for worse). The amount of air in the cask will grow as well, changing the interaction between wood and whisky. I imagine this wouldn't be much of a problem if the difference between two bottlings was a matter of days - but what if it's months or years?
In that case there can be very DIFFERENT bottlings from the SAME cask.
Things become even more confusing when 'finishing casks' enter the picture...
If a whisky from ex-bourbon cask #10358 is finished in ex-Tokaji cask #923, which cask number will appear on the bottle?
Or, imagine the contents of ex-bourbon cask #10358 and ex-sherry cask #10359 being 'vatted' and finished in ex-port cask #4711?
Does that make it a single cask bottling? I admit these may seem like really 'anoraky' issues, but one of the things that drew me to single malts was the 'authenticity' of the product. The whisky industry as a whole loves to accentuate that aspect of (single malt) whisky, but on the 'trade' end of the business some consider the practical implications of that authenticity as a complicating factor... They don't like the consumers to be TOO close to the product (= knowing TOO much about the product) because that only inspires them to ask difficult questions and look for specific bottles that other consumers liked instead of simply picking up what the liquorist suggests.
Some bottlers are walking a fine line already.
There was some discussion amongst the maniacs about whether or not the reference number of recent Douglas Laing bottlings was indeed the original 'cask number' used at the distillery. A phrase like 'A bottling from one cask number 13190' would indeed seem to SUGGEST that this is the case, but when asked about it Susan Webster of Douglas Laing said this: 'The DL ref code we use on all the bottles is an internal system we use to keep track of our casks. We have over 3500 cask samples in the office, a figure which rises daily! Basically, the first cask sample we tasted was given DL1, and every sample that comes into the office is systematically added to the list. i.e. DL234, DL1237 etc. It is NOT the cask number, and we have never shown the cask number on our labels.'
So there you have it - at least a clear answer. So, the 'number' on Douglas Laing bottlings refers to a bottling, not a cask.
For 'tracking & tracing' purposes the original cask number would be even better I guess, but at least in this case we'll know that every bottle from a series with a certain 'DL Reference' number should be the same. That's still better than a situation where people could buy a particular bottling based on the cask number, only to find that the glowing reports they've read were for an OTHER bottling from the SAME cask. Ah well, maybe I'm just being stubborn, but until we've figured out what's the deal here I've marked all bottles on the monitor where something 'unusual' might have happened to the cask before (all of it) was bottled. Those cases are marked as 'FONDLED CASK?'.
I still feel a bit uneasy about the whole phenomenon - expect an 'Ask an Anorak' discussion about this soon...
We have almost 20°C here in Alsace on this very January 13th...
F*ck*ng global warming ! And when are we gonna have the opportunity to enjoy our 'warming' winter malts again? The stocks of iceable Lowlanders are getting low and the thick, rich sherry monsters are shrugging on our shelves, powerless…
On the other hand, I could do a little reading on my terrace this morning. Reading (and sippin' whisky) in the open is always more enjoyable, especially in January in he Northern hemisphere. The sun was shining brightly at 10 AM
but what some writers were saying in their books was grim. "Scotch whisky is not as good as it used to be!" claimed one of them. Another one was concluding that, on the other hand, "change for the sake of change when your
customers are looking for consistency may come expensive."
Hmm… Sombre times ahead indeed.
Yeah, except that the former author, R.J.S. McDowall, M.D., D.Sc., wrote his accusation in his book "The whiskies of Scotland", published 1967 (when whisky was so much better than today, eh!) whilst the latter, Derek Cooper, did put his scary warning in his "Whiskies of Scotland" (creativity indeed), published 1978. Don't get me wrong, these two books were otherwise very good and very revealing, but I couldn't help trying to find out about these experts' claims by digging into Whiskyfun's tasting database.
Exactly forty years after the honourable Professor McDowall issued his rant, himself echoing Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, senior to him and another staunch partisan of the 'whisky is getting worse' line at the time, I tried to find a good dozen whiskies bottled in 2006 that I particularly enjoyed. And believe it or not, that was a very easy task. Actually, it came much harder to select just twelve!
So, here are these twelve wonders of 2006, from very best to 'maybe just a tad less best'. Please note that I still have quite a bunch of 2006 malts to taste – I'll try to do them justice later on Whiskyfun. Also, it's true that all these twelve whiskies are quite old (age is still a asset to a whisky, although not a guarantee of quality). Supporters of the 'whisky's getting worse' line may observe that in the old days, we had young whiskies that were stupendous (remember the 12yo Springbanks 100°proof?) whilst today, we have to rely on more maturing to get the greatest drams. They might be right, but it seems that it's more a matter of disappearing 'true bodega sherry casks' than anything else. But without further ado, here's my list with my original tasting notes (that may sometimes seem to be out of context, sorry about that). All are legendary drams that have gathered 93 points or more in my books!
1) Dalmore 50yo (52%, OB, 2006, Crystal decanter) – Of course this one will be the buggering counterexample, as it was distilled in the very old days… Best tasted in front of Richard Paterson waving a fake plastic Philoxera (Richard, what you've got is anything but a philoxera!) A proportion of the spirit was first drawn on the 4th March 1922, which in turn is reputed to embody some Dalmore from 10th June 1868 and 18th February 1878. Kind of a solera? Colour: deep amber, slightly darker. Nose: wow! Slightly shy for half a second (especially when compared with the 32yo) but then it's the charge of the Light Brigade! First I get leather and cigar box mixed with menthol, eucalyptus and old Tarragones chartreuse. Then I get fresh seashells like ormers or clams, all kinds of dried fruits (no need to list them all), beeswax, old furniture, old wine, espresso coffee, chocolate, butter caramel, old orange liqueur… Stunning development! Quite some peat in there, probably, because there's also notes of old pu-erh tea, wet hay, hints of horse sweat… What's great is the strength of the whole, fab that they managed to come up with 52% instead of the usual 40%-ish very old whiskies. Amazingly great, with the menthol doing a remarkable comeback after quite some time. A malt to spend a whole evening with as far as the nose is concerned. Mouth: terrific news, it's almost as great on the palate. Not quite, as almost always with old whiskies, but this mix of leathery, waxy, minty and oaky notes is just fabulous. Really full-bodied, almost invading, with again all sorts of dried fruits, all sorts of great old wines (not just sherry), all sorts of teas (notably blackcurrant leaves I think), coffee, black toffee, these raisins again, dried bananas, old calvados (with that slight bitterness), dark pipe tobacco... Gets more an more toasted and liquoricy after that, very 'black' if you see what I mean, almost heavy and thick (in a nice way). The finish is incredibly long and even fresh (sort of), superbly orangey and quite leafy/earthy, with hints of game, caramelized meat and… smokiness from the peat? S-t-u-n-n-i-n-g, and believe me, I'd have loved to bash such an extravagantly priced whisky ;-) but I'm sorry, it's going to be no less than 96 points . (thanks to Richard Paterson and Whisky Live Paris)
2) Clynelish 1973/2006 (54.2%, The Prestonfield, sherry butt #8912, 405 bottles) - I loved this one by Signatory and La Maison so much! I've been quite disappointed by the fact that several other maniacs didn't like it as much as I did at the malt maniacs awards 2006, which prevented it from getting gold. Maybe it's not consensual malt but many have been raving about since WhiskyLive Paris. Colour: white wine. Nose: much more expressive, much fruitier but also much peatier (although a little less peaty than when I first nosed it and immediately though it was Brora). Starts developing on huge notes of beeswax, honey and pollen, it's really like when you open a beehive (with appropriate protection of course). Then we have earl grey tea, pine resin, cough syrup, hints of fresh mastic… And then the much anticipated fruits, fresh oranges, guavas and papayas, quince, ripe bananas – then it makes kind of a U-turn towards old books, leather, tobacco and resins, with a beautiful peaty signature plus a little ginger, ginger ale and white pepper. Just beautiful, with a more than perfect balance and lots to say. Mouth: oh yes, here's the peat I got last time, together with this beautiful, waxy and honeyed fruitiness peculiar to Clynelish. Lots of citrons, lemons, quinces and peat, with a superb smokiness plus quite some paraffin, mastic flavoured sweets, small bitter oranges, gentian spirit, quince jelly, a little nutmeg and black pepper… The peat first lingers in the background but really comes to the front after a while, with an obvious 'Broraness'. Damn, this is so f******* good (please excuse my coarseness but it's hard not to lose your self-control when in front of such a great whisky). Okay, the rest will be censored then… 95 points.
3) Ardbeg 1975/2006 'Islay Festival 2006' (46.3%, OB, Fino cask #4717, 165 bottles) – A bottling that managed to create a new dictum
that says that 'It's not because a malt's overpriced that it's bad whisky'. Or something like that… Most interestingly, the Ardbeg for the festival
is at 299 GBP this year, three times the price they asked for the 2002 release. I guess you can get a small used car for that price. Why so
much money? 'Because we haven't got many of these casks left' did they tell us quite apologetically at Ardbeg while something like an
embarrassed angel was flying around us in the Old Kiln Shop. No wonder many friends who used to collect Ardbeg already quitted since a few
months or years. Anyway, no other comments needed except this: 'better be good!'… Let's try it… Colour: straw. Nose: very pure and clean at
first nosing, vegetal and quite farmy. Lots of peat and lots of smoke (it's hugely smoky in fact), with little fino influence I think, immensely
clean. Gets then much more maritime, with notes of seashells, oysters... Goes on with quite some green pepper, curry, peppercorn, then
lime… Really 'straight', really pure, with also quite some minerality. Mouth: starts quite lemony, with 'of course' lots of peat and smoke. Goes
on with fresh almonds, marzipan, a little paraffin… Again, it's very pure and straight. Not violent at all, rather soft… Finish: not too long but
very, very classy, with quite some spices, nutmeg and pepper. A brilliant Ardbeg but again, at 299 GBP, it had to be good…
Yyeah, yeah... 95 points.
4) Glen Grant 1972/2006 (46%, Berry Bros & Rudd, Cask #1982) – I am a huge fan of Doug McIvor's work at Berry Bros & Rudd's, whether on old Speysiders or on much younger and more mundane expressions of various distilleries (ah, those Bowmores or Longmorns!) Here are my unpublished notes... Colour: full gold. Nose: a truly superb start on a whole basket of fresh and sometimes overripe fruits, both tropical and 'western'. Apples, mangos, bananas, papayas, pineapples, passion fruits, longans, dates… the list is endless. Gets then magnificently honeyed, heathery and then slightly resinous and camphory. Let's keep this short: it's a fantastic nose that'll arouse anybody's enthusiasm, with also kind of an old bottle effect – yes, I know it's not an old bottle. Mouth: a very good start, probably a little less demonstrative but really multidimensional. Kind of a 'toasti-smokiness', a little spearmint, dried fruits (not fresh ones this time), tobacco, marmalade, bitter chocolate, un-sugared espresso, superb hints of marc de gewürztraminer eau-de-vie (but then again, I'm Alsatian)… It's getting better and better, fab, fab, fab. And the finish is long, very long, very very long, smoky and jammy but also ultra-clean. In short, a true masterpiece that will make your day just like it just made mine - 94 points.
5) Brora 30yo '5th Release' (55.7%, OB, 2130 bottles, Bottled 2006) – Most of the time, I find the people who keep whining about 'but why did they close this fa-bu-lous distillery in 1983?' sadly boring (think '1983', guys) but in this case, I think they are very right! Colour: pale gold. Nose: much more powerful and full of youth at first nosing, almost like if it would be 15 years younger. Rawer, rougher, starting mostly on huge farmy notes (wet hay, cow stable, wet dog), eucalyptus, wax, almonds, old books, wet cardboard, smoked tea, apple skin, walnuts… Well, the list is endless as expected. Gets even wilder after a moment (hare's belly – having run on grass after the rain at 5 in the morning as some wine buffs would say -, civet, pheasant…) Hints of mint. Peatier than both the Talisker and the Lagavulin. Just amazing at 30 years, I guess there's still quite some Brora from the early 70's in the vatting. Mouth: bang! Rich, invading, thick, fat and almost oily, much more compact and 'direct' than both the Talisker and the Lagavulin. Truckloads of peat, apple skin, marzipan and liquorice, with a little vanilla in the background and also lots of quince jelly, strong smoked tea and spices (pepper, nutmeg, dried cardamom). Hints of horseradish and mustard. Amazingly punchy, I'm so glad I tasted the Talisker and the Lagavulin first. Very long finish of course, with again a little salt and quite some lemon skin, smoked tea and, of course, peat. Brilliantly compact, even if I feel the '2004' version was maybe still a slight notch above this one. But let's not split hairs, this is just what the doctor ordered! 94 points , just like the '2005'.
6) Ardbeg 1974/2006 (52.5%, OB for La Maison du Whisky, Cask #3309, 119 bottles) – A bottling that managed to create a new dictum that says that 'It's not because a malt's priced a little more fairly that it's worse whisky'. Or something like that… Colour: gold. Nose: an amazingly medicinal start again, but of a different kind: lots of camphor, eucalyptus, embrocations, old turpentine… The development happens on something nuttier (marzipan) and also on fresh butter, vanilla and old walnuts (definitely a fino character, even if it wasn't a fino cask). Gets slightly resinous after that, toasty and meaty (smoked ham, fried bacon). Finally sandalwood, sour apples and old books, returning to Vicks and smoke. Brilliant as expected – how many of these great casks do 'they' still have (whoever the previous owner was)? Mouth: not extremely bold at the attack and slightly cardboardy but that's not a problem at all because it's soon to get just as medicinal as on the nose, quite huge and invading. Superb notes of pu-erh tea of the best kind, quite some salt again, fresh walnuts, 'real' liquorice Holland-style (I'm about to become an expert, thanks to some Dutch maniac!) cough sweets, old Chartreuse (I'm about to become an expert, thanks to some French maniac), beeswax, chlorophyll… Something definitely 'old and resinous', 'polished', 'antique'… Totally irresistible. Finish: long but not monstrous, oily, salty and resinous with hints of big, fat oysters and mussels. Well, this is just another big Ardbeg from the magical years! Quite expensive (roughly 350 euros) but worth every cent if you don't gulp it like if it was Coke. 94 points.
7) Bowmore 1968/2006 (41.5%, The Taste Still, Cask #3823, 144 bottles, Belgium) – More and more 'non-Scots' are doing great jobs on the whisky field. Of course there are many Englishmen but several German (fab Whisky Fair bottlings), French (La Maison du Whisky, Jean Boyer or Celtic Whisky Compagnie who did so well at the malt maniacs awards 2006 – cheer!) or, yes, Belgian guys are now bringing great whiskies into the market. This one comes from Corman-Collins in Belgium… Colour: straw with bronze hues. Nose: a superb fruity attack as (almost) usual with these old Bowmores but this time there's also a little peat coming through, as if all the peat hadn't been 'aromatically converted'. That does give this version an extra-dimension. Lots of pink grapefruits, passion fruits and mangos plus hints of vodka-orange, orange drops, tangerine liqueur and lemon balm. A beautiful sharpness, quite unusual in these old Bowmores. It develops on various kinds of fresh herbs (parsley, dill, celery), with also something slightly wild and farmy (hay, smoked ham). Lots of presence, ending with quite some lemon juice and some great oaky tones. A tireless old Bowmore, brilliant. Mouth: the attack isn't exactly powerful but rather 'wide', with the expected bitter oranges, grapefruits and lemon zests. A very pleasant bitterness (walnut skin, apple skin, dried ginger) mingles with all sorts of herbal teas and something waxy and rather resinous. Less complex on the palate than on the nose but still very expressive and pleasant. Medium long finish on quince jelly, bitter oranges and quite some salt remaining on your tongue and lips for a long time. Another excellent 1968 Bowmore, very interesting because it's a little less of a fruitbomb than many of its twins. 93 points.
8) Inchgower 25yo (54.1%, Whisky Doris, 2006) – Another great example by excellent German retailer Whisky-Doris (the kind of retailer who isn't just in it for the money, to quote the great Frank) and a rather obscure distillery that we saw a lot in 2006 (alongside Glenglasaugh). Colour: cognac. Nose: oh yes, this is the kind of sherry I like! It starts on a fantastic mix of smoked 'stuff', coffee and cocoa, with no heaviness at all. We have then quite some balsamic vinegar, grilled meat, old dry white wine (very old Montrachets, Château-Chalons), bitter caramel, hot brownies… Very little rummy, raisiny, fruity notes this time and kind of an austerity that's all elegance here... The smoke grows bolder by the minute (I already had a few very smoky Inchgowers), with also notes of game (foul pheasant), sea air, coal, maybe also heating oil. Ah, yes, and linseed oil. Extremely classy, with not a single hint of sourness or vinosity. Mouth: yummy! It starts sweeter and rounder but still in a rather austere, almost rigorous way. Lots of cocoa, toasted bread, ristretto coffee, Smyrna raisins this time, grilled almonds with caramel… It's beautifully dry in fact, all elegance. The bitter chocolate really starts to overwhelm the whole after a moment, and I love bitter chocolate and its dryness. It doesn't really develop any further, but what we have is that excellent, that it's almost good news. The finish is long, beautifully dry and, again, superbly austere. Bingo! 93 points (but you have to like dryness in your whisky).
9) Port Ellen 23yo 1983/2006 (55.2%, Monnier Trading, Switzerland, cask #2110, 300 bottles) – Yet another example for my theory, from Switzerland this time (via Signatory). They already had a 39yo Pulteney in this series, with a nice label showing an old motorbike. This one's more 'classic'. Colour: straw. Nose: extremely young yet relatively mellow, starting on apple juice mixed with lemon and a rather huge 'coastality' (oysters, seashells, seaweed and all that jazz). Nice minerality as well, the peat being maybe a little more discreet than what we're used to but that gives the whole more elegance. Very nice notes of almond milk, grapefruit, apples, hints of green bananas… Unusually tamed, with no tarry / rubbery notes whatsoever. Crystal-clean. Mouth: superb attack, creamy, oily, much bolder than expected. Almonds, lemon, peat and oysters… And beautifully compact, at that. Superb palate. Gets then sweeter (possibly one of the sweetest unsherried Port Ellens I ever had), sort of candied, with a little vanilla fudge… It's not exactly complex but the global feel is rather exceptional. Finish, medium long, peaty, smoky and jammy as well as spicy and peppery… Pure pleasure, an anti-hard Port Ellen. 93 points.
10) Tomatin 1965 (50.7%, JWWW The Cross Hill, sherry cask, 82 bottles, 2006) – The Germans again, this time with Jack Wieber, who keeps bottling great whiskies (but beware, sometimes they split a cask into several labels/series. Some have bought the same whisky twice, unknowingly). Colour: deep amber, almost brown. Nose: a very unusual start, with gallons of kirsch and tons of liquorice sweets. I love it, for it's so far from 'just another sherry monster'. It gets then extremely complex, with a very wide array of aromas (bubblegum, very old sweet wine, rancio, strawberry jam, very old Port, mint flavoured tea, black nougat, chestnut honey, dried kumquats… - note to self: beware maltoporn). Superb notes of liquorice and mint sweets (we call them 'Batna' here), old natural turpentine, walnut liquor… And yes, hints of peat. Just fab, as complex as, say, many Springbanks from the 1960's. Mouth: oh yes, it's fab again, provided you're not put off by heavy tannins, sourness in whisky and hyper-dryness. I'm not, as long as the whole is as balanced as here. The attack is on chocolate, lots of balsamic vinegar, herbal liquors (Jägermeister, Chartreuse) and yes, wood. Lots of toasted bread as well, old fortified wine, Grand-Marnier, fruit eau-de-vie, liquorice (lots), old rum… And armfuls of herbs (parsley, chive, aniseed, rhubarb, lovage…) A very, very interesting experience! The finish is long, very sweet and sour, herbal, and frankly drying now… But the whole is just fab in my opinion and, you got it, most unusual. It'll be 93 points as far as I'm concerned, but it's probably not a very consensual expression.
11) Glen Keith 1967/2006 (53%, Gordon & MacPhail for La Maison du Whisky, cask #3876, 215 bottles) – Another proof that what we could
call 'metabottlers' (companies that select casks from indie bottlers) can do fabulous jobs. Some 1967 Glen Keiths I had before were very dark
and heavily sherried. Colour: amber (good news!) Nose: su-perb! Probably the best cough syrup ever, fabulous at first nosing. Starts on old
turpentine, camphor, cellulose varnish, pine resin, tar and mastic, with also huge notes of crystallised quince and very ripe peaches. Lots of
marzipan as well, fresh walnuts, vin jaune (fino)... Abfab! Gets more and more resinous (pine, fir, old Chartreuse) and almondy. Extreme
compactness. Granted, you have to like eupyreumatic aromas in your whisky to enjoy this venerable Glen Keith but if you do, this is for you.
Amazing. Mouth: very coherent! Lots of tannins but nice ones, together with something very earthy (gentian roots and eau-de-vie). Superb
bitterness (old Chartreuse again, bitter orange liqueur) and then these camphory notes, eucalyptus sweets, mint drops, propolis gums... Lots
of orange marmalade as well, dried ginger, notes of ginseng powder. Probably not amazingly complex and maybe a little cloying if don't like
this kind of profile too much but I do so I love this rather extreme Glen Keith. Yes, it may be oak infusion but the end result is really fab. Finish:
very long, very bitter and resinous, tarry, like kind of a very old herbs liqueur with just a pinch of salt.
It's extreme and I love it - 93 points.
12) Lagavulin 30yo (52.6%, OB, 2340 bottles, 2006) – This one has been a little controversial but I can't see why. It's not because we
should have loved it that we shouldn't (yes, Oriental philosophy at its best). Colour: pale gold. Nose: certainly bolder (maybe hotter and more
spirity) and rather unusual, very different from what you'd expect from Lagavulin. Starts on rather bold notes of nutmeg, almonds, smoked tea
, old books and maybe a little incense and starts developing on passion fruits, mangos, white currants and ripe peaches. Then we have a little
mint, mint flavoured tea, peat smoke, liquorice tea, cigar box, hints of shoe polish… Finally apple skins, hints of ginger ale and old walnuts and
we're back to almonds (and a little coffee)… All that is rather subtle and I'd say it reminds me of the old 12yo. The fire's gone but it left room
for delicacy and subtlety. Mouth: just like with the Talisker, the palate seems to be bolder than the nose – and bolder than the Talisker's. Also
sweeter, fruitier and spicier, with lots of fresh nuts (macadamia spring to mind) and quite some lemon, grapefruit and liquorice stick. Grows
bolder and peatier by the minute, with also a little ginger, cardamom, green, tea, apple skins… A fantastic development, from a maybe slightly
shy start (considering it's Lagavulin) to a bold, thick and extremely satisfying middle. The finish is long, almondy, peaty, smoky and salty
(although a little less than the Talisker's) and the whole is just a beautiful Lagavulin than doesn't taste his age. I'd advise any taster to take
his/her time with this one, it's really the development that is fantastic – and I think this 30yo has more to tell than the 25.
Is that experience? 93 points.
Actually, two other drams were truly dazzling in 2006 I think: Bowmore 40yo 1966/2006 (43,2%, Duncan Taylor, cask #3317, 171 bottles) and Balmenach 1976/2006 '30th Anniversary of Kirsch Import'
(52.9%, G&M reserve, sherry hogshead #1765, 230 bottles).
But our editor-in-chief said I should list only twelve… OK, OK!
So, I'll end this little E-pistle by quoting our good friend Professor R.J.S. McDowall again, who wrote in 1967: "Whisky continues to improve in the bottle. It is said to 'brandify' by those who know but for some reason, which I do not understand, the idea that a change takes place in the bottle is not generally approved of. (But) this opens up the whole problem of whether or not bottled whisky should not be 'laid down'."
Interesting! In any case, there were several whiskies bottled in 2006 that certainly deserve to be 'laid down', if you ask me.
Editorial Note: Here we have a follow up on my 'Malt Mafia' E-pistle
that's available in the ADHD section. This follow-up was submitted by
foreign correspondent Joep van Drunen...
Whisky is popular. Unbelievable popular.
And once whisky became popular, it started to overload Ebay too.
Everybody happy, you could buy beautiful whiskies for a good price.
However, the problem for me were the quite high sales fees at Ebay
(too expensive) and the fact that they had no proper category for liquor, including whisky. Let me think, what was it? Listed in category:
Collectibles > Bottles & Insulators > Bottles >
Modern (1900-Now) > Whiskeys: Screw Top.
In the country where kids get killed because they find a gun of their father, it is illegal to sell collectible whiskies. The bottle is no problem, but the contents are not allowed. In February 2005 my own small auction site saw the light: www.whiskybay.com. First bottles where my own of course. After that slowly some others started to auction and sell. And then suddenly a whole bunch of Macallan, Springbank, CC's and so on appeared. Although Italian sellers, there was no doubt at first because their name was new and some also sold on Ebay with positive feedback.
After approximately 1,5 years there were some members who told me that they bought suspicious bottles.
One of them was sure it was a fake. I started to investigate some sellers and auctions and found out they were frauds.
On Wednesday 23 august 2006 a newsletter was sent with the announcement of a Blacklist. The list would be public, and contain some persons I found to be frauds. A day after the newsletter was sent, I got a disturbing email from Luc Timmermans of the malt maniacs. He told me that a friend of him, Geert, bought a fake CC Ardbeg bottle from a seller called 'Oldbottles'.
It was sold on my site. It turned out to be a fake;
• Painted gold screwcap
• Copied label
• Mismatches and types on the label
I acted immediately: I banned all the IP addresses in the database from Italy. Searched for all the Italian members and blocked them. After that I started to compare telephone numbers and addresses. And after a "reverse" search on the internet, I managed to build a "fraud matrix" for Whiskybay. As everybody can see on that overview, strange things are going on.
Sergio Borroni is well known to the Malt Maniacs. Nevila is the same man. Or is he the companion?
Sergio is the former owner of Mondowhisky.com. As Nevila, he uses the email address email@example.com.
So that is enough evidence. They are one. All the telephone numbers are the same and used on my site.
Marco and Anna are 2 persons or Anna is also someone with multiple personalities... Looking at the telephone numbers they all gave, the addresses could be traced with a reverse method of searching. The strange thing is the totally different name on the address found in Italy. Or is it not that strange? BAMBI RENZO? One of the names used in a email is MarcoBambi. That is funny, isn't?
The people mentioned here are quite close to each other (I mean in Italy). Are they friends? Companions maybe?
After my newsletter I decided to send a "broadcast" (multiple message) to the people above. After that I tried to contact them. Telephones are working, but not answered. Emails are not replied to. They are aware of the blacklist that is now on WhiskyBay. Here a short piece of an email I got from our friend Sergio: "My number it is 50013 and the other is 50100 and I want to hope for law on the privacy that my personal data have been only used for me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!".
Let's do a little "Sherlock Holmes". He is talking about his number (postal code). He says his own number is 50013 and not 50100. Okay, that can be true. BUT, we know that Sergio is the former owner of mondowhisky. Look at the postal code given by rossoferrari (info@mundowhisky .com): 50013 ! Anna and Marco have the same problems keeping things apart. In the database I can see lots of different postal codes, but all addresses are the same. I am 100% certain that these people know each other and are frauds.
The strange thing about the bottle Geert bought is that it was sold by "oldbottles" (Nevila or Sergio).
The name on the address Geert got is: NICOLA ALIVODAJ, VIA CORTI 1, 50013 CAMPI BISENZIO (FI), ITALIA.
This name was never used on my website. It is Nevila. Another thing is that, if you look closer to my matrix, Oldbottles is using postal code 50100 on the website, BUT says in his email to Geert that his postal code is 50013. Puzzled?
Nevila = Sergio Berroni = Nicola Alivodaj!
Regarding my site and Ebay: The people mentioned in my fraud matrix are also operating on Ebay.
At least I am trying to fight whisky fraud, Ebay won't. At the moment I am writing this, another big fraud case is investigated.
Italian again? No, Dutch I am afraid….. to be continued.
Joep van Drunen (www.whiskybay.com)
Having flown down from East London to Cape Town I attended on the 1st
and 2nd November the FNB sponsored Whisky Live Festival which was held
at the International Convention Centre in Cape Town. The first workshop was the "Craft of Blending" presented by Don Paul who is the author of "My Whisky Companion", which I have recently read and he is also headmaster of the College of Whisky in Cape Town which specializes in training industry personnel in the art of whisky tastings and presentation of whisky products.
Don gave us all a brief history of whisky distilling and how blending takes place on a commercial basis and during his talk he made sure a number of malts circulated amongst us so there was no chance of anybody running dry. We then started our own blending attempt with each of us having a 200ml bottle which already contained the base which was about 100ml of Cameron Brig grain whisky. There was a choice of about 28 single malts to add to the base and with only 100ml to add one had to be careful not to overdo the individual blends.
Of course as Don pointed out if we were lucky enough to hit the jackpot and create "the perfect blend" we had to remember the exact quantities of how we did it but with 20 or 30 people present we all ended up just pouring it in and not measuring it.
One of my neighbours was very unhappy with his creation which he said tasted a bit like "paracetemol" but I was quite happy with my blend which on top of the Cameron Brig base contained Clynelish, Glen Elgin, Dalwhinnie, Glendullan, Highland Park, Macallan and Lagavulin (How's that for giving out secrets!). I managed to add two new whiskies to my mileage being Cameron Brig and Glendullan and all in all it was a most enjoyable evening with the added bonus of being able to take your creation home where my brother and I finished off the evening by enjoying a few tastings of the blends we had created.
The second night at the Festival began with a visit to the main tasting hall.
The main hall contained the many exhibitors' stands, hospitality areas and foodstalls, where we tasted amongst others Highland Park, Glenmorangie, Macallan and Talisker. The locally produced Three Ships whisky was also there, who in 2003 came out with a10 y.o. single malt with only 6000 bottles available, a first for South Africa. A very interesting exhibit was the Wall of Whisky which was a display of whisky's available from Picardi Rebel, a large South African liquor chainstore and if you purchased one of their products you put yourself in line to win all the whiskeys contained in the Wall of Whisky, a prize worth about R35000.00. Here's hoping!
But the most interesting stall for me by far was that of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society South African branch. Yes, they are here at last, based in Johannesburg and I met Keith and Caroline from the Society and Annabel, a delightful young Scottish lass from the Society's head office in Edinburgh who was out here to assist with the launch. They had some very interesting whiskies, I tasted an Invergordon 24 year old, a Glendullan 14 and a Glen Scotia 14 all of which were first time tastings for me.
The evening culminated in a workshop presented by the inimitable Dave Broom to whom I passed on Johannes' regards.
Dave's workshop entitled "Free your mind" was a fascinating journey involving some lesser known whiskies and for the second time that evening I had the pleasure of tasting one or two that I had not come across before. Dave's fascinating talk illustrated a different way of enjoying whiskies, a Slow whisky the Glenrothes 1991 14 year old, a Quick whisky Compass Box Oak Cross, a Subtle whisky a 12 year old Linkwood, a Young whisky a seven year old Ardbeg Still Young, a Weird whisky an Invergordon 40 year old and a Rare whisky a Benriach 25 year old. This is the first time that I had met Dave Broom and I can only admire his passion and dedication to his subject. The evening culminated in an all too quick return to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society stand, the drive home and a final nightcap at home tasting a dram of the previous evenings' homemade blend.
The 2006 FNB Whisky Live Festival was a first time event for me and as interesting as the main exhibition hall is I cannot overly emphasise to people who attend a festival such as this to try and get to as many of the workshops as you can, they are really fascinating, you meet the most interesting people and altogether it becomes a very rewarding process for those whose passion is whisky. -
Joe Barry (Foreign correspondent, East London, South Africa)
It was with some surprise that I received an email from Johannes asking me to report on the state of whisky in South Africa, in light of the upcoming Whisky Live festival.
Before I start perhaps some history is in order: South Africa has traditionally been a beer and wine consuming society, with our wine making dating back to the 18th century when French Huguenots settled in the Cape of Good Hope bringing French vines with them. Consequently South Africa has been producing wine and consequently brandy for over two centuries. Understandably, brandy has up until recently been the spirit of choice.
In the last twenty or so years there has been a big move toward whisky (mostly blended stuff) due in part to massive marketing campaigns from the major distributors (Brandhouse , Pernod Ricard and company). This has fortunately changed as a number of niche importers (The really Great Brand Company, De Toren, and Forbes Distributors amongst others) have started to import brands that have really only been available at duty free or certain specialist liquor outlets.
Of course one other main player William Grant, with Glenfiddich and its marketing muscle has really pushed the malt experience.
So now we find with regularity everything from Ardberg to Talisker. We are also able to get some Rare Malt and Old Malt Cask bottling as well. All of which are available at most outlets. So things are starting to look up. For the sake of this report I have focussed more on the festival and what was available rather than on the tasting itself. Perhaps in future I could contribute on recent tastings but for now here's the feedback on the festival...
The Whisky Live festival 2006 was held for three days in both Cape Town (the most beautiful city in the world) and Johannesburg (my home town) during November. Judging by the attendance this year, the future for single malts in South Africa is looking extremely bright , close to 15 000 people attended the festival. This is a significant increase over last year which saw about 10000 visitors, I am told. In addition to all the distributors showing their wares, a number of sessions were held on whisky appreciation, whisky trends etc. These were given by some of the industries most respected and knowledgeable people.
Amongst the session leaders were; Dave Broom, Tom Morton and Jimmy Bedford (Jack Daniels). All of which were completely sold out , indicating that South African have not only a thirst for good malt whisky but also a thirst for gaining knowledge on the subject – a good sign indeed. In addition to them there were also a number of brand ambassadors from several distilleries. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Steven Sturgeon – global marketing director from William Grant, who indicated that the growth of single malts in South Africa is very encouraging and the sub continent is an important part of their market.
So who was there? Well the festival could be split into 3 categories: single malts, blends and American whiskies
For the sake of this report I will forego reporting on the latter two.
As indicated above, we were fortunate enough to see a number of smaller brands being shown in South Africa for a first time through the "independent "distributors. Of particular note was Compass Box (distributed by De Toren) which attracted a large number of visitors to their stand. Their Oak Cross, Peat Monster and now discontinued Spice Tree (which I really enjoyed) was available for tasting. It was a great pleasure to see Glenfarclas was on show from Forbes distributors and I was fortunate enough to taste their 25yo (which is definitely on the must have list). Forbes is also the distributor of Arran, Achentoshan, Bowmore, Connemara, Glen Garioch, Old Malt Cask range and Yamazaki. Naturally I, and a multitude of others spent quite a bit of time on their stand sampling their wares.
The other major independent distributor, The Really Great Brand Company, had several stands, each showcasing their particular ranges, which include some of the world's greats; Ardberg, Glenmorangie, Highland Park (disappointing though, no 18yo available to taste), Macallan and their number one product, Famous Grouse. The Famous Grouse Malt range has done a tremendous amount to highlight malt whisky of late.
Moving on to the bigger players – Brandhouse, who also distribute Bell's, J&B as well as Johnnie Walker , were showing their extended range of single malts that they represent in South Africa. These included Caol Ila, Clynelish, Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Glen Elgin, Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Oban and Talisker. Being the size they are, they pretty much dominated the floor space with all their brands, and yes they did have their entire blended portfolio on show as well. Other notables were Pernod Ricard, with Aberlour, Benriach, Glen Keith, the Glenlivet, Longmorn and Strathisla were present albeit in a more subdued fashion.
Of course one cannot forget about William Grant & Son who have been the longest and most active company in promoting single malts in South Africa through their Glenfiddich brand. They had a great stand with an abundant number of knowledgeable representatives on hand (including Steven Sturgeon). Understandably Glenfiddich is the No.1 selling single malt brand in the country.
I should also mention that Balvenie and Laphroaig had a presence through the local wine producer Douglas Green.
In fact, De Toren (mentioned earlier) is also an excellent wine producer. A number of small importers were on hand, some with obscure offerings, some with well known product, like Bruichladdich, and others with some rare offerings (managed to try some St. Magdalene, a 21yo I think – delicious!) , but with the exception of Bruichladdich they are inconsistent with supply and generally tend to be quite expensive.
To some it up then, there is quite a wide offering in South Africa (including Dalmore, Springbank, Jura – who I did not see at the festival) , and growing all the time. It has taken the S.African market some time to acquire a taste for single malts, but the bug has hit ,and this can only mean good things for Malt lovers south of the Limpopo river. If there is anything that we are missing its perhaps the independent bottlings (Gordon and McPhails, James MacArthur etc) that are available in Europe and else where, but I believe some enterprising individual will recognise this and start to import these as well.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge certain people who gave me insight and provided me with information which helped in compiling this report: Jason Duganzich (Brand Ambassador William Grant & Sons), Shane Cogill (Forbes Distributors), Emil den Dulk jr. (De Toren wine and spirit) and Neil Hendriksz (Brand Ambassador The Really Great Brand Company)
Until next time, Slainte Mhor
It often happens, it's not the first time that I hear it, that someone starts out as a whisky lover (maybe turning in the meanwhile into a Malt Maniac) and then gradually develops love for all things Scottish… Well, almost all, as haggis and black pudding can still be a bit scary even for the most die-hard Scotland lovers.
My case is actually the opposite, as I was already fascinated by the atmosphere of Scotland, by misty landscapes, castles, heather and kilts before becoming a single malt drinker. Actually what I was fascinated by was mostly the stereotype I had in mind of Scotland, coming from photos, movies and such. But I had never been even once in my life in that mysterious land…
All this until summer 2006: I had been thinking of visiting Scotland for the past years, but I had always chosen other destinations. Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Austria, Czech Republic… Nice places, some of them actually stunning, but still no Scotland! The main obstacle was probably my wife Silvia, not so intrigued by the idea of a coldish place, with lots of rain and wind (which she heartily hates), and by the reports of horrible food and uncomfortable places to sleep made by some friends of ours (yeah, right, read on…). Anyway I won her reluctance, with the important "persuasion" help of a couple of friends (Gianluca and Cinzia) who were thrilled by the idea.
What follows is a brief account of our trip to Scotland.
It's a little change of pace from the usual highly technical E-pistles you can find here…
That's right, because our trip was NOT meant to be only whisky oriented: we planned to see a couple of distilleries, but no more. After all, I was the only drinker among the four of us and I couldn't drag them about for hours in distillery after distillery, right? So, for once, enjoy the "travel guide" and, why not plan a Scotland trip yourself using mine as inspiration for the places to stay at? You will find lots to see and love, besides whisky…
The first three days of our summer trip were spent in London.
That was because that's where EasyJet flights from Torino arrive in the UK.
After these three days, we took another EasyJet flight to Glasgow, where we had planned to spend the night at the Holiday Inn in front of the airport before starting our trip on a rented car the next morning. Bad move! In spite of having already paid in advance when we had made our reservation, we were told by the hotel manager that our room had been given to another guest because of overbooking! Quite damn scandalous, if you ask me… and not a good start for a vacation. If this is Scottish hospitality, we are screwed, we thought… but luckily that was only a glitch because the rest of the vacation proved to be much better, thanks to MUCH nicer people than the pricks at Glasgow Airport Holiday Inn.
Anyway, the hotel manager sent us for the night to another place not very far from the airport (The Dumbuck House), which luckily was very
nice. Extra "maltophile" points: on the road to the hotel, we passed by Auchentoshan and Ballantines. Some sleep, a nice breakfast (just
some tea, marmalade and toasts… we shocked many "locales" during our vacation by saying no to bacon, eggs, sausages and all sort of
things which would have instantly killed our delicate mediterranean stomachs so early in the morning…), and here we go, ready to hit the road!
From Glasgow, the first destination was Loch Lomond, which we meant to coast all along from south to north. While Gianluca was still practicing his skills on this weird car with the steer on the WRONG side and on these weird roads with the traffic all going, again, on the WRONG side, we already knew we had come to a wonderful place. Yes, the view was exactly as we thought: green, with gentle hills and mountains, a "humid" but not rainy atmosphere, a menacing cloudy sky from which beams of light sometimes head out revealing beautiful patches of sunlit landscape. Enjoying this unusual atmosphere, we passed Loch Lomond and the beautiful little houses with elegant flower gardens on its shores, and we reached the "Rest and be thankful" pass. Again, breathtaking view… but also a lot of wind: Silvia was already beginning to give me an angry look while shivering for the cold while I was prancing around in happiness taking pictures during our break…
The first town of a certain importance that we stopped at was Inveraray, to have a look at the beautiful castle, at the old jail and at the town. I loved Inveraray, a very quiet place on a sea loch with a nice relaxed atmosphere. In general, I loved these sea lochs: there is the sea, there are constantly seagulls making noise, you can truly breathe sea air… but all around it's full of mountains, a view which is quite unusual for us.
After Inveraray, we left in direction of Loch Awe because we had to stay at Portsonachan Hotel.
It took us some time to find it because some roads in Scotland are actually quite narrow and seem to lead nowhere: actually they were much better than we thought, usually very well cared for. The hotel was once again very nice, with a great view on the Loch and nice rooms (with the doors marked by clan names and not with the usual boring numbers!), all surrounded by the woods. Only complaint: 5 Pounds for a VERY wee dram of Lagavulin seems a bit steep to me… What was a bit unsettling was the fact that from the taps in the rooms the water was… BROWN! Yes, that's right, but we soon learnt that it actually there was nothing to worry about: it's not dirty, it's perfectly healthy. As you will already have guessed, the reason of that color is PEAT! But no, I am afraid that in case you have run out of Ardbeg or Laphroaig you can't simply drink that water to enjoy that wonderful smoky taste: as I soon discovered, that peat has absolutely no effect on the taste of water… Sorry, maybe if they had peat SMOKE-flavored water…
After leaving our luggage, we decided to go to Oban to see the town and have dinner.
Oban is another sea port which I guess lives of tourism and fishing… and of course the distillery. We only visited the outside and the shop because it was too late, but it was nice. By the way, if you happen to stay in Oban just beware of the wind: it's one of the places in which it blew stronger and colder (yes, more angry looks from my wife!) during our vacation.
And, on a note of "local folklore", a young girl on the street managed to shock us with a couple of earth shattering belches which were a few decades of decibels stronger than the noise of the wind and certainly stronger than ANYTHING I have ever produced in my life! Congratulations to a worthy descendant of some rude Highlander from centuries ago! ;-)
Dram of the Day: Oban 14yo (43%, OB)
Nose: A good balance of smokiness, iodine and maltiness. Quite delicate.
Palate: Tasty and balanced. Intense maltiness dominates, letting sweetness, smoke & spirit emerge alternately. Some dry oaky notes.
Finish: Very warming, with a slightly salty note. Getting bitterish (due to caramel coloring?).
Comment: Not a particularly distinctive malt, but a very solid and intense one.
A good middle of the road malt that usually appeals also to casual drinkers (Gianluca likes it!).
Score: 81 points.
Off we go to Fort William! Again, Fort William is a nice coastal town, with a nice atmosphere: the main street has a bit too many tourist shops, but as a whole it's not bad at all. By the way, this was the place where we bought a newspaper and read about the terrorists' failed attempts to bomb planes in London the day before (phew, we were VERY lucky to have left before!) and about the new restrictions for luggage on flights (no liquids, etc.). Which meant two bad things for me: that I risked to have my heavy camera gear put as checked baggage, and that I could probably not carry any precious bottle back to Italy. Oh, well, nowadays with Internet I can buy them from home and have them delivered… so this didn't spoil my vacation too much.
After Fort William (passing in front of Ben Nevis distillery), we headed for Glenfinnan. Not because of the monument there, but because our friend Cinzia is a fan of Harry Potter and wanted to see the steam-train bridge used for a scene in the first movie! The things one does to make the women happy… Anyway, we saw the bridge and the monument, and then we left for Mallaig where we had to wait for the ferry to Skye.
Mallaig looks even more like a fisherman's den than all the other coastal places we had seen so far: as such, it offers very little touristic attractions and can grow a bit boring after an hour, but it certainly looked much more authentic. While waiting for the ferry, we also saw a glimpse of the Isle of Mull from a distance: maybe another trip to Scotland in the future? Why not, since I recently tasted a killer sherried expression of Tobermory from Wilson & Morgan and I would like to know more of this distillery! The brief cruise to Skye was enjoyable (although the wind at sea was starting to be a bit TOO much even for me who I usually don't care much for it), and we found Skye at its best… bathed in a beautiful golden sunset light. The vast open spaces of Skye are eye-popping no matter where you look at, definitely the best I have seen in Scotland! Too bad it was very late so we had to rush to our B&B and to have dinner, because in certain areas of Scotland restaurants stop serving food at 9 PM and we were quite hungry!
In finding a good place we were helped by the ENORMOUSLY kind Mrs. Gillian Glenwright of the White Heather Hotel (in Kyleakin) where we had made our reservation: she made a phone call to a restaurant she knew and booked the last table for us! By the way, coming back to the "uncomfortable places to sleep" topic: we didn't find ANY place to sleep in Scotland that was any less than GOOD, and most of them EXCELLENT. Either we were lucky, or we picked well when making our reservations… or simply the level of B&Bs and hotels in Scotland is quite high, with extremely gentle hosts. We have to say that White Heather was one of the best: lovely large rooms, with a great care for cleanliness and the minute details that DO matter, and a nice breakfast. Well done, Gillian!
And so, after leaving our luggage at White Heather, again we rushed out for dinner to the recommended place: Creelers, just a few minutes from Kyleakin. And here we come to the other scary topic: the "bad food". Ha! Again, we never found a place where the food was bad: even in the remotest pub of Scotland, we enjoyed it! Of course you have to like meat, fish and potatoes and forget about vegetarian stuff and of course pasta (but in a couple of place we had some nice salads and lasagne too!), but I am certainly not complaining. Almost anywhere you can find battered haddock and ale steak pie, not to mention some good "soup of the day" made with tasty ingredients like onions, bacon, leek and cheddar: and this should quench the hunger and satisfy the senses… Anyway Creelers on Skye was certainly a notch above most other places: great assortment of fresh fish cooked in intriguing ways, and other seafood. And, very important, the first meeting with the yummy black chocolate fudge cake which became a must at the end of so many dinners!
Dram of the Day: Tobermory 1995/2006 (46%, Wilson & Morgan Barrel Selection, Sherry Wood)
Nose: A triumph of unusual perfumes: peat (not as intense as in Islay malts, more like a delicate expression of Talisker), iodine, leather, camphor, pine needles, lemon peel. Sherry maturation shows in the overall richness but without evident winey or raisiny notes.
Palate: Slight echoes of tannins and damp musty earth, a very autumnal malt. Great interplay of licorice, mint, camphor, bitter coffee and herbs (absinthe?), making it first refreshing then warming. Again, sherry maturation shows its influence in an unexpected and unusual way. Hard to find a malt so young but already so mature and complex (while still very bold).
Finish: Licorice, pepper, pleasant woody notes. As time passes, it becomes dry and with suggestions of tropical fruits.
Comment: A bold and interesting expression from this often overlooked distillery. Too bad it didn't get any medals at the Awards, because I absolutely loved it.
Score: 86 points.
Sadly the next day on Skye didn't offer light and weather as beautiful as the evening of our arrival: mist, some drops of rain and a bleak atmosphere. The impact was still beautiful and impressive, anyway. First thing to do in the morning was of course the visit at the Talisker distillery: set in a very remote and isolated corner of the island, in Carbost at a few feet from the shores of a sea loch, the distillery absolutely doesn't look like the place where one of the best-known and appreciated single malts in the world comes from. And yet it is , thanks to the quality of the whisky (though I will stress that old bottlings had more character) and the powerful marketing of Diageo.
As soon as you enter the white building, it's immediately evident that the drinks giant has turned even a remote distillery like this one into a tourist attraction. Which of course also means that it looks a bit too modern at times… Anyway, we leisurely enjoyed our dram of Talisker 10 when we waited for the tour to start: also Gianluca tried one, but he almost choked on it because he found it too smokey (you haven't tried the real smoky stuff, my friend… now I plan to slip an unexpected Lagavulin 12 or Ardbeg Very Young under his nose the first time he comes to my house!) and so I finished his glass too.
We don't want to waste a single drop of it even if it's only 9:30 AM, right? The distillery tour was quite interesting, though of course not very informative for a Maniac who already knows it all. What I did NOT know was the wonderful smell of fermentation: like bread and strong beer, very deep and dizzying. I kept sniffing the interior of the washbacks, because in spite of what some other tourists were saying I found it very appetizing! BTW, congratulations to Diageo for the honesty: the tour girl easily admitted that they use colouring for the 10 and 18yo, but not for the older expressions. We already knew, but it's nice to see that distilleries don't lie about these things. Only complaint: I would have loved to taste some of that '70s Talisker which I saw sleeping in a barrel and who knows when will be bottled…
After Talisker we headed for Dunvegan Castle, another "must" of every tour of Scotland: the castle of the MacLeod clan! Nice interiors and gardens, a worthwhile visit. Then we headed for Portree, while crossing the whole island of Skye and admiring its striking landscape. Portree is another coastal town with its nice atmosphere, lots of seagulls, vividly colored houses, etc. etc. A brief tour of the town, some photos, and then off to the northern part of the island which is very sparsely inhabited. Just lots of green hills, some rocky formations (including the famous Old Man of Storr), beautiful cliffs and LOTS of sheep. A very enjoyable afternoon, a memorable experience for the eyes.
But our day on Skye had to come to an end, so we took the bridge at Kyleakin and crossed back to the mainland heading for Kyle of Lochalsh. Any movie buff will recognize the next attraction, the Eilean Donan Castle, very renowned for being the castle shown in the film "Highlander" with Christopher Lambert (WTF? A French guy pretending to be a Scottish warrior, while the supreme Sean Connery pretends he's a noble Spanish swordsman???? Oh, whatever…). The castle was closed for visits as it was late in the afternoon, but we spent quite a lot of time around its walls enjoying the view. And, stroke of luck, we stumbled into a local marriage which was to be celebrated inside the castle: we had a chance to see lots of men with skirts… ehm, with kilts, and the official piper for the ceremony surely added LOTS of atmosphere. You certainly can't get any better with all these stereotypes in one shot: kilts, piper, castle, typical landscape… We enjoyed it all VERY much… Also my wife was starting to like the place, after all, which was a big satisfaction!
End of the day was spent in Ratagan, at a very cheap but nice B&B called Fisherbeck: it seemed lost a bit in the middle of nowhere (well, at
least for us city guys), but again we found very hospitable hosts and a nice room. Definitely recommended!
And also the nearby Jac-O-Bite restaurant was very good!
By the way, if you happen in the Skye/Kyle of Lochalsh/Eilean Donan area, don't miss the local beers which are available almost anywhere: Red Cuillin, Black Cuillin and Hebridean Gold. I found them all very pleasant, especially the red one.
Dram of the Day: Talisker 20yo 1981/2002 (62%, OB, Sherry, 9000 Bts.)
Nose: Intense, with dry sherry notes and peat. Lots of fruits (oranges, strawberries) and rubber self-adhesive medication bandages.
Palate: Wow! That's bold and spicy! Some water is definitely needed to avoid a severe burn and release the flavors! With water, it becomes drier and spicier, losing some licorice and maltiness, but it remains strong and stunning. Definitely the best Talisker I have ever tasted, not as sweet as the ordinary 10yo and 18yo bottlings. Peat, dry sherry and madeira, bandages, licorice, propolis, Campari bitters…
Finish: Long, peppery and burning. The fruitiness lingers for a long time.
Comment: Perhaps a bit too extreme and at times even dissonant, but what an experience!
Certainly more enjoyable and extrovert than the bourbon-cask 20yo, which is a bit too austere and dry.
Score: 90 points.
Early morning departure for Loch Ness, under a gray sky.
First stop was Fort Augustus, a place of interest because of the sluices that allow boats to enter Loch Ness from the canal in spite of the different altitude level (a bit like Panama… on a smaller scale).
Loch Ness is certainly huge, though the landscape under that gray dull sky was not as impressive as we expected. On Loch Ness we stopped a while to have a glance at the ruins of Urquhart Castle and to see if we could spot the monster… no luck, probably some heavy dramming would have helped.
At lunch time we were in Inverness, but we decided to drive a few miles eastwards more to visit Cawdor Castle and have something to eat at the nearby tavern. Cawdor Castle is quite huge and well preserved: the interior is lavish and fascinating, though of course visitors are only allowed to see a small part of the rooms (don't forget that many Scottish castles are still inhabited). The funny thing is that this castle is linked to Macbeth due to Shakespeare's play… but it's just artistic license, since at the time of Macbeth and Duncan's murder the castle had not been built yet!
After the visit of the castle and gardens, we headed to Inverness, where we stayed at the Kinloch Lodge B&B: another excellent place, with large and comfortable room and two very nice hosts. Their names are Denise and Bob Dalgarno… which is certainly a name that could raise many eyebrows from those who know at least a bit about Macallan. Sadly there is no connection with the "other" Bob Dalgarno, although from our conversation I gathered that our two hosts certainly love single malts and know quite a bit about them! We then went to have a quick tour of the town: the castle on top of the hill, the banks of the river Ness, the cathedral… Overall a nice town, although the weather was very bleak. Shame on the young (and quite drunk) guy at the pub who started to chat with us and when he discovered we come from Torino said: "Oooooh, Juventus!!!! You cheating bastards!!!!". Awwww, it seems that football fanatics are everywhere…
Another colorful note: in a shop we saw the perfect "good taste" souvenir to bring back to friends… the McCondom Whisky Flavored condoms, packed in an elegant tartan-colored little box… Ouch! I still wonder whether they are flavored with a blend or a single malt… Some tasting notes and a Matrix score would be interesting… but I prefer to pass this task to someone else than being seen sucking a condom!
Dram of the Day: Macallan 18yo 1979 (43%, OB)
Nose: Winey, sherried, sour, with lots of dried and candied fruit (oranges, apricots, peaches).
Compared to more recent versions, it smells "dirtier" (in a pleasant way) and more organic.
Palate: Good balance of sweetness and dryness. Very sherried, intense and fruity (peach, mango, orange, raspberry, cassis). A bit viscous. One of the most overpoweringly sherried malts I have ever had, and one of the best examples of how sherry maturation must be done: it's huge, but not excessive. Not the almost metallic sherry character some other distilleries have, not excessively mouth-drying. Only Glengoyne and Aberlour can consistently make sherried malts this good, IMHO.
Finish: Long, increasingly dry and a bit smoky/caramelised.
Comment: Sherry cancels almost any maltiness, but it's extremely enjoyable (though a bit unidimensional).
Score: 89 points.
The fifth day was meant to be a relaxing one: some nice drive in the countryside, and a couple of stop at distilleries. Right, because we were about to enter the region of Speyside, where you stumble into a distillery every step you take (and I am not joking… you really needn't look hard, because the road signs point everywhere).
So, we drove south, touching Grantown-on-Spey, Rothes and many other little places: what is important to point out about Speyside is that the landscape starts to be very different than on the western coast of Scotland. While our trip so far had seen a rugged landscape, with lots of green and striking views over lochs, in Speyside everything looks more rural. Sweet and low hills with intense purple patches of heather, vast fields of barley, but apart from that it looks much more like a piece of countryside from continental Europe.
The first stop we made was at Macallan: while I am not a fan of their recent "Fine Oak" series, their heavily sherried bottlings are among my favorites. Few other distilleries make sherried malts as fine as Macallan (Glengoyne comes to mind)! Sadly, although it was still early in the morning, all the guided tours for the day were fully booked, but we were allowed to visit the premises, see all the buildings from the outside and especially Easter Elchies House, the "symbol" of the distillery. Well, they could have also offered me a free dram of that tempting 1926 bottle on the shelf at the shop, but I had to console myself with staring at the GORGEOUS blonde blue-eyed girl who welcomed us at the distillery: definitely the most striking lass we have seen in all of Scotland! My wife and our two friends were laughing all the time seeing that I had turned in a few seconds from Malt Maniac to a maniac of another kind…
Next Maniacal stop was at Glen Grant: coming from Italy, what did you expect?
The tour was very nice and friendly (not to mention FREE), and the bonus was seeing all of the rooms 100% in operation (while at Talisker there was no distillation in that particular moment). Again, that wonderful smell of fermenting barley, and some good laughs provided by the cute girl who showed us around ("The spent barley after fermentation is transformed in pellets which are used to feed the cattle… and that's why in Scotland we have very happy cows!!!").
Overall a very nice and friendly place, although they only have the regular NAS and 10yo bottlings to taste and to buy, because as the girl explained to me all the casks destined to a longer maturation are sent to Gordon & MacPhail in Rothes. By the way, Glen Grant is the place where we saw the brownest and peatiest water in all of Scotland: the creek which runs through the Victorian gardens and is used by the distillery has a color that could be easily mistaken for slightly diluted Coca Cola!!! Funny how the Glen Grant malts don't have even the slightest taste of peat, another proof (if needed) that using highly peated water for the wort does not lead to a peated final product.
We then stopped in a little and very quiet rural town called Keith (a lucky choice because the Boogie Woogie Cafè provided us with a delicious lunch), and then headed for our resting place: Barr House B&B in Blairdaff, a lovely place in the countryside of Inverurie among barley fields and wild rabbits (lots of rabbits!!!!!! Only then we understood the reason of the thick fences around all gardens at the castles!). Barr House is another superb place to stay, with two very talkative and EXTREMELY kind hosts that made us feel truly at home.
Before dinner we also managed to visit the nearby Fraser Castle, which is interesting because it's a bit in the French style, quite different from the other ones in the area. While not many rooms are open for visits, the ones that are surely deserve a look. For dinner we went to another quiet country hamlet called Monymusk: at the Grant Arms Hotel we had very good food, and the whisky selection at the bar is nice and absolutely honestly-priced. I picked a delicious 15yo full proof Glenlivet from an old-looking bottle which ended my day perfectly.
Dram of the Day: Glen Grant 10yo (40%, OB, Bottled 2006)
Nose: Still a bit spirity like the 5yo Italian version, but evidently "better" (less pear distillate smell, less grappa-like).
Slightly fruity, nutty and sherried.
Palate: Very clean and dry, lively but not too pungent. It's spirity because it's young, but it has a pleasant maltiness with slight wood, sherry and smoke notes. Delicate but not weak. Drinkable and inoffensive.
Finish: Quite short, mostly on smokiness, nuttiness and plain alcohol.
Comment: Not very different from the younger version, but with a little more character.
Again, a malt that pleases casual drinkers. Not a lot of character, but no huge faults either.
Score: 72 points.
New day, new castles to see!
The other two interesting ones in the area are Crathes and Drum: both are worth a visit. Crathes has a very nice garden and lavish interiors, and Drum while being quite small has some nice and cosy rooms and a fine view from the top.
We then moved towards Aberdeen and the coast, to see the ruins of Dunnottar Castle: a breathtaking view, because it is built on a rock on the sea. If you have seen Zeffirelli's movie version of "Hamlet", this is where it was filmed. Very impressive view from the cliffs…
Passing through Montrose, we then headed for Brechin for the night; actually we arrived early in the afternoon because we had miscalculated the driving times… and it was quite disappointing because Brechin is NOT what I would call an attractive place. Shops close at 5PM, and after that time it looks a bit like a ghost town: very few people around, gray stone buildings, and the dull weather sure did not help. The fact that the local distillery (North Port) is mothballed certainly doesn't help.
The local church is worth a look, though, if you happen to pass there.
At least the place where we were staying (Liscara B&B) was very nice: a large well decorated house, with excellent color-themed rooms and, again, a very hospitable couple.
Dram of the Day: Glenlivet 15yo (57%, G&M, Smith's)
Nose: Propolis, honey, clean maltiness. Some camphor, camomille, flowers and hay. Very sweet.
Palate: Again, big sweetness with or without water. It's like a honey and propolis liqueur! Also a bit like Drambuie.
Waxy, with some slight wood polish and ginger notes. Syrupy.
Finish: Clean, malty, sweet. Again, some slight oak hidden in the honey.
Comment: Not extremely complex, but a profile I love.
Score: 86 points.
Glamis Castle here we come!
Glamis is one of the most visited castles in this region of Scotland, as can be easily seen by the dozens of tourist buses arriving every few minutes. It is a very huge castle, and very attractive both from the outside and inside: one of the best, without doubt.
The fact that it was the childhood home of the Queen Mother, of Princess Margaret and, again, that it was quoted in the Shakespeare play "Macbeth" surely adds to the atmosphere. No, we didn't see any ghost, though the castle is also famous for legends of this kind (actually more than half of the castles we've seen were supposed to have some kind of ghost wandering in their rooms… I guess that they are quite pissed off by the tourists who disturb they sleep and they don't show up in revenge).
Next stop was Dundee, where we passed rather quickly and just had a glance at the Discovery ship in the harbor: we had to hurry a bit because we wanted to reach St. Andrews, the place with the oldest golf course in Scotland. St. Andrews is a nice but VERY touristic place, sort of a "holiday resort" for rich guys who love golf.
After a nice and quite cheap lunch at the Doll's House restaurant in the center, and a big laugh in front of a barber shop (due to a "FREE DRAM WITH EVERY HAIRCUT!" sign on the door!) we had a walk in the town and headed for the beautiful Cathedral: huge, impressive… although in ruins. The fact that it looks so old and crumbled to stones is actually fascinating: we spent quite a long time enjoying the view and walking among the gravestones.
After a quick look at the local castle, at another church and the renowned university, and then some boring shopping by the girls for tartan rugs, scarfs and the like (I forgot to mention that it was NOT the first day in which they indulged in their shopping activities while Gianluca and I stayed outside for a cigarette…), we then headed towards Perth for the night. Perth is a nice and quite modern town, and the Dunallan guest house was yet another excellent place to stay. Under suggestion from the guys at Dunallan, we went to eat at Paco's, which while not serving only typically Scottish food was truly excellent.
Dram of the Day: Glenglassaugh "Twenty One" 1984/2006 (46%, Wilson & Morgan Barrel Selection, Butt #190)
Nose: A triumph of candied fruit (orange, cedar, cherry), stewed apple and pear, chestnut honey, licorice, anis, tamarind, floss sugar… and some wood polish and coffee. After a few minutes, some wine and dried raisins
Palate: Syrupy, warm. A nice sherry maturation: intense and luscious, but not markedly winey or astringent character. The distillate is not overwhelmed by the wood: it is a nice interplay between maltiness and sherry. Notes of licorice, chestnuts and dried fruits, "Barolo chinato".
Finish: Alternately honeyed and dry, mellow and spicy. Very long, with echoes of English bitter ale.
Comment: Another winning bottle from the "luxury" selection of W&M!
Score: 88 points.
First thing in the morning, we headed just outside of Perth to see the Scone Palace.
It's the crowning place of Macbeth (this time not in fiction, but in history!) and many Scottish kings.
The interiors of this castle are among the most lavish we've seen (although, again, few rooms are open to the public) and the park outside is very elegant and relaxing. After this visit, we then headed towards Stirling to see its castle. Actually this time we're not speaking of a family estate like most castles in Scotland are: this is a true, big fortification on the top of a hill, more a "castle complex" that betrays its ancient use as military base. As such, the visit takes quite a long time and covers several buildings.
The informative value of the visit is high, although of course the castle has been heavily restored and adapted as tourist attraction (though the same can be said of most Scottish castles): in some rooms you can even see recreations of life in the castle with statues showing the daily activities (the preparation of food, etc). Being an old military fortification, don't expect lavish furniture and tapestries, but walking around and seeing the weapons exhibitions, the wall perimeter, the cannons and all the stuff is surely interesting and a welcome change of pace. From the top of the hill on which the castle stands (precisely, from the point where there's the statue of legendary king Robert the Bruce), you can also have a nice view of the Wallace Monument on top of another hill… which of course was destined to be our next stop.
Since I suppose you've all done your homework and seen "Braveheart", you already know who Wallace is. If you don't, shame on you and learn at least that he fought for the rights of his fellow Scotsmen: he died by the hand of the English, but his name still remains. The monument lies on top of a steep rock, and it's quite impressive: it looks like a tower from the "Lord of the Rings" movie, and it hosts an interesting historical exposition about the life of the Scottish hero.
The most interesting item is the huge two-handed sword believed (but never proved) to be the original one used by Wallace.
Of course also the view of Stirling from the top is nice (if you manage to survive the steep climb on one of the narrowest spiral staircase I have ever seen). After a glance at the Stirling Bridge, theater of a bloody battle against the English, we then headed to Dunblane for spending the night at the Hydro Hotel and seeing the local cathedral.
Dram of the Day: Glenfarclas 15yo (46%, OB, New 2006 packaging)
Nose: Extremely dry and pungent, with lots of nuts of every kind, freshly cut grass. Almost "crisp", if you get the idea… like the breezy mountain air in the woods in a chilly morning.
Palate: Very intense, not as "friendly" as some other commercial bottlings of this price range. Dry sherry attack, followed by orangey notes and again a grassy profile. A different style of sherry wood than other bottlings in this E-pistle! Quite austere in its dryness, almost mouth -drying. Wood polish, some hints of propolis, dry like a Fino… yet also rich like an Oloroso.
Finish: Increasingly dry, oaky and nutty. Some traces of bitterness and denaturate alcohol.
Comment: Very interesting, but also very dry and sharp. Drier and more austere than other Glenfarclas bottlings!
Score: 82 points.
This day was the worst of all weather-wise: rain pouring over us from 10 AM, and this was a shame because we had to see Edinburgh… After battling with the heavy morning traffic of this large city (it was Festival time, so lots of tourists), we reached the Edinburgh Castle: again, like in Stirling, this is not only a castle, but a fortified complex, although more modern. Visiting all takes AT LEAST a couple of hours: the crown jewels, the military exhibitions (depicting uniforms and weaponry of Scottish troops from various centuries), etc. and is definitely a worthwhile visit. After lunch at the Scotch Whisky Heritage Center (where I also had a nice Bowmore Dusk to prevent a rain-induced cold), we started walking on the "Royal Mile", the old central street of Edinburgh where you can find historical buildings, tartan shops and weavers, well-furnished single malt stores, a confectionery specialized in fudge (but their hot chocolate was not excellent, in spite of the owners being of Italian origins), the Parliament, a huge cathedral where the most striking attraction is the famous Thistle Chapel with its intricate ceiling, and the Holyrood House. In spite of the heavy rain, the crowd attracted by the Festival was big (mimes, actors, clowns, musicians…) and I would suggest another period rather than August if you want to visit the town with a more relaxed atmosphere.
After getting lost trying to get out of Edinburgh in the late afternoon, we had a short drive to Melrose where we had planned to spend the last night in Scotland (at Dunfermline House, another excellent B&B).
Dram of the Day: Bowmore NAS 'Dusk' (50%, OB)
Nose: A very faint whiff of peat is masked by the luscious wine finish. Sweet, raisiny, with raspberry and iodine making a nice interplay. Some darker brooding "burnt" notes. No violets or lavender, luckily!
Palate: Fruity, syrupy, nutty. The wine, again, wins over the distillery character but it's not as unbalanced and wild as in some Darkest batches. Rubbered bandages, rose-water, a good balance of sweetness and dryness.
Finish: Sweet, winey, warming, raisiny. Again, quite balanced and elegant. Intense, long and yummy, perfect after dessert.
Comment: An interesting wine finish that for once doesn't taste "funny". I am not a big fan of recent Bowmores, but this one was very nice (not complex, but rounded, pleasant and without any evident fault).
Score: 84 points.
Dunfermline House is right in front of the ruins of Melrose Abbey: yes, again a huge old building crumbled to stones but actually in a much better shape than the one in St Andrews. It's really a beautiful place, with lots of interesting visuals and of course of great historical importance as the heart of Robert the Bruce is buried in the Abbey grounds.
Not very far from Melrose is Abbotsford, of interest because of the beautiful home of famous writer Walter Scott: it is in very good conditions, with excellent interiors which can be freely photographed (the only place we've visited where there were no restrictions about this!) including Scott's desk where he used to write his epic novels.
After Abbotsford, the last place we had to visit was Roslyn Chapel… a must for anyone who enjoyed "The DaVinci Code". It actually isn't as mysterious and atmospheric as the book would suggest: crowded with tourists, and covered by an ugly-looking scaffolding to preserve it from humidity.
Anyway, the Masonic symbols are all there and you can have fun exploring all the little details if you are into this sort of stuff… I am not, and I just shot lots of pictures for the girls who wanted to be sure to bring back home every minute detail… But then it was time to leave, so we headed for Edinburgh Airport: due to the terrorist threat, some dumb restrictions on hand luggage still applied, so I had one hell of a time managing to bring my heavy and large (and FRAGILE) camera equipment on board with me… but I eventually succeeded. The funny thing is that while the airport personnel was very strict about the size of my backpack, they almost didn't even take a look at the CONTENTS when I finally managed to squeeze it into the maximum required size… Come on folks, less stupid size limitations and more controls on the nature of items INSIDE the bags!!!
Dram of the Day: Glenkinchie 10yo (43%, OB)
Nose: Cereals, toffee, flowers, hay and honey.
Palate: Very delicate and refreshing, a good balance between sweetness and dryness. Very malty, with flowers (lavender?) and hay. Slight oakiness, some black chocolate. It reminds me of the malt-flavored sugar candies that I used to eat when I was a child.
Finish: Dry, flowery, delicately warm. Hints of figs.
Comment: Delicate but not wimpy, although a higher ABV would probably make it even more interesting. Not the most stunning malt (and I prefer Rosebank as lowlander), but it has some subtle interesting flavors.
Score: 81 points.
- - -
And so our Scottish vacation was over… we were a bit tired, but very happy.
The trip could hardly have been any better (hoping for more days of sun and blue skies would have been pure illusion: at least we didn't suffer much cold or rain), and even my ultra-skeptical wife was extremely satisfied. Now she also asks where a single malt comes from whenever she sips a little bit from my glass at home!
To finish, just let me give a couple of suggestions to the Scottish: first, please stop trying to serve single malts in tumblers! Except for my dram at the Heritage Center in Edinburgh (where the barman obviously was very knowledgeable), I always had to ask specifically for a proper tasting glass… often receiving quizzical looks from the bartenders. Second, why in 99% of the places in Scotland (and also England) do the sinks have separate taps for hot and cold water? Definitely a big nuisance… Wake up, the rest of the world has discovered "mixers" so that you don't have to choose between scorching your hands with boiling water or freezing them! (And I would also like to know the purpose of the "inflatable sheep" that were available at the condom dispenser in the toilets of many pubs… but I feel that I'd probably better leave that question unasked…).
So, I hope that with this E-Pistle and the photos you are starting to be interested in planning YOUR visit to Scotland soon…
If you need to ask anything for organizing your trip, just feel free to contact me.
Believe me, after a trip to Scotland you'll enjoy its single malts even more...